Attorney General Cuomo Takes Legal Action Against Social Networking Site That Ignores Proliferation Of Child Pornography

NEW YORK, NY (June 10, 2010) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that he has served the social networking Web site Tagged.com (“Tagged”) with notice of his intent to sue the company for failing to protect children from being exposed to graphic images of child pornography.

Tagged is a social networking Web site that targets the teen demographic. Numerous statements made on Tagged’s own Web site and publicly by company officials tout Tagged’s supposed dedication to child safety and responsiveness to complaints. However, a three-month undercover investigation revealed significant lapses in Tagged’s response to user reports of graphic images of children being sexually abused, inappropriate sexual communications between adults and minors, and content that advocates pedophilia.

The following are examples of graphic content that currently remains online despite specific complaints to Tagged made through the Attorney General’s undercover user accounts:

  • A user profile with a slideshow of children, some of whom appear to be younger than five years of age, in sexually explicit poses, exposing their genitals, and engaged in sex acts with other children. Tagged was informed of this content on April 17, 2010.
  • A user profile with photos of an adult performing oral sex on a girl who appears to be younger than 10 years old. Tagged was informed of this content on May 27, 2010.
  • An extremely graphic image of a girl who appears to be younger than 10 years old involving bestiality. Tagged was also informed of this content on May 27, 2010.

“Despite the safety claims listed on its very own Web site, Tagged.com repeatedly looks the other way when sexually explicit material is sent to its underage users,” said Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. “Child safety online is something than can never be ignored. This type of activity on the Internet poses a threat to children everywhere and parents must be aware of the dangerous security lapses at Tagged.com.”

After receiving a consumer complaint that Tagged was non-responsive to user alerts about graphic images of children being sexually abused, sexual solicitation of minors by adults, and pedophilia, Cuomo’s investigators created undercover Tagged.com accounts and made over 100 reports about 80 users regarding inappropriate sexual content and contact. The undercover accounts were then used to report this content and contact to Tagged using the mechanisms described on the company’s Web site. Despite these alerts, the vast majority of the reported users still have active Tagged accounts and most of the reported content remains on the Web site. In sum, of 80 users that were reported to Tagged by undercover investigators for various misdeeds, 51 users still have active accounts.

Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation revealed, among other violations, that:

  • Graphic images of children being sexually abused and obscene content are readily accessible on Tagged.com. Investigators found 29 user profiles on Tagged that included graphic images of children being sexually abused. These children were nude, in various states of undress, and often in sexual positions. Some user profiles had slideshows of naked and exposed children. Out of the 29 user profiles that were reported to Tagged by undercover investigators, 18 still have the reported content online.
  • Adults routinely engage in inappropriate and sexual communications with minors on Tagged.com. Investigators found 10 adult users who sent inappropriate sexual communications directly to underage users. In one instance, an account registered to a 10-year-old received a message with a desired sexual fantasy from a 59-year-old user and received a picture of a man exposing his genitals from a 49-year-old user. Further, the profile of the 10-year-old should not even exist since the Web site claims that users must be at least 13-years-old. Of the 10 users that were reported to Tagged by undercover investigators, 5 of those adults’ profiles remain active.
  • Underage sex-themed groups exist on Tagged.com. In user groups with names like “Younger Women/Older Men,” adults often express their interest in engaging in sexual acts with underage members. Investigators found 23 adult users who used groups to befriend and engage in sexually graphic dialogues with underage members. Of the 23 users that were reported to Tagged by undercover investigators, 13 continue to have active profiles.
  • Admitted sexual offenders may have active profiles on Tagged.com. Investigators reported to Tagged an unidentified user - using the screen name “criminal sex offender” - who admitted to being a convicted sexual predator. His user profile, which does not list a location for the user, remains online. Investigators were also informed of another possible convicted sexual offender on Tagged; the Attorney General’s office is coordinating with the proper criminal law enforcement authorities to pursue this matter.

As outlined in the five-day letter of intent to sue, Tagged’s failure to respond promptly to complaints of sexual exploitation of children on its Web site may facilitate the ability of sexual predators to target child victims. The Attorney General will sue Tagged if the company does not appropriately address these dangerous lapses in their own safety controls within five days.

Laura Ahern, the Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, said, “Tagged’s blatant disregard for our children’s safety is completely unacceptable. Social networking sites that allow predators to exploit and potentially access our most vulnerable must be held accountable. Attorney General Cuomo is a crusader for our children and I applaud his continued commitment to fighting sex abuse in New York State.”

Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said, “The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is proud to work with Attorney General Cuomo to put a stop to online activity that threatens children. NCMEC has handled nearly 900,000 reports of child sexual exploitation online. It is vital that every internet company use adequate reporting mechanisms and take the necessary steps to keep children safe. Attorney General Cuomo’s latest action to protect children online is an example of effective leadership in making the Internet safe.”

Protecting children from online exploitation has been a priority for Attorney General Cuomo.

  • In October 2007, Cuomo and the social networking Web site Facebook entered into a historic settlement agreement to promote online safety for children. The agreement required Facebook to, for the first time, respond quickly and effectively to consumer reports and complaints about sexual predators, obscene content, and harassment.
  • In 2008, Attorney General Cuomo entered into agreements with every major Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) offering services in New York State requiring them to block access to child pornography Newsgroups, a major supplier of illegal images, and to purge their servers of child pornography Web sites.
  • Also in 2008, Cuomo introduced the Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (“E-Stop”), the nation’s most comprehensive law to enhance protections from sexual predators on the Internet. Under E-Stop, many sexual predators are banned outright from using social networking Web sites while on probation or parole, and all convicted sex offenders must register all of their e-mail addresses, screen names, and other Internet identifiers with the state. That information is then made available to social networking Web sites so they can purge potential predators from their online world. Thirty-two social networking Web sites have since agreed to use E-Stop information. As of early 2010, over 9,000 New York accounts linked to nearly 4,000 individual sex offenders have been removed by these social networking Web sites.

This matter is being handled by Acting Bureau Chief of the Internet Bureau Karen Geduldig, under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Maria Vullo.

The Attorney General’s five-day letter is available at: www.ag.ny.gov/media_center/2010/june/Tagged_5_Day_Letter_6_10_10.pdf.

 

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